Guns n’ Roses: Use Your Illusion 1 & 2

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

August 18, New York: First off, spending a work day listening to Guns n’ Roses sure does make for an odd mood. This is a music that is so unlike what I listen to now— loud and energetic and adolescent. I was never a GNR superfan (or a concert attendee, even once), but I was a teenage connisseur of popular music. These two best-selling albums were the first that I bought to follow a trend, and it felt great. I bought them from BMG, as a part of my introductory eight albums. The songs on my new CDs were all over the radio. They were all over my MTV. I was a part of a movement! I’d bought a subscription to a movement!

It’s surreal to listen to Guns n’ Roses now— particularly the blatant adolescent shock value of the lyrics (I cringed all the way through “Back Off Bitch”). More surreal perhaps to watch the video for “Estranged”, in which Axl— who lacks a second vowel in his name and is ALSO TWENTY-NINE YEARS OLD AT THIS POINT— wears jeans shorts for the majority of the whole video.

Upon a re-listen, there are really two albums here. Not Use Your Illusion I & II, but rather Use Your Illusion: The Hits and Use Your Illusion: The Filler. Through the lens of time they are very, very different experiences, yet they are mixed and muddled together. And the hits hold up because holy crap there were so many hits off of this album! The Rock: “Civil War”, “Live and Let Die”, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”. The Ballads: “Don’t Cry”, “Estranged”, “November Rain”. And each and every one these I found myself singing along to.

And then in the filler I was just lost. Half of it was entirely unfamiliar. The music sounds foreign today, this hard-rocking band in a studio where so many notes are punctuated with guttural exhalations and every drumbeat echoes like it was recorded in a silent and empty stadium. I bet for the actual Guns n’ Roses fans this album was a bit too polished. But hell, Slash sure can play a guitar. And Axl, for his faults, sure does have a vocal range.

For kids my age, Axl and Slash were quickly supplanted by Kurt and Eddie. But “November Rain” is the song that followed all of us dance to dance, through middle and high school. It was the super-long slow dance song. It was the song you had to make sure you were dancing to with the right person. With the right person, November Rain was the only song that came anywhere near to the eternity that you wanted to spend awkwardly circling with hands limply draped on shoulder and hips. With the wrong person, it was an endless prison. I spent every school dance both loving and dreading November Rain.

PS— How fucking cool of guitar player must Slash have been to get HELICOPTERS to shoot his solo? New thesis: Slash is the coolest thing about Guns n’ Roses/rock n’ roll.

If you find yourself compelled, go listen to them on Rdio.

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